This is the school we planned to visit, but couldn’t.
Pakse is in southern Laos, in a very poor, steamy lowland, full of farms and jungle and swamp. Malaria is prevalent there in the rainy season, but the risk was reduced for us because by the time the end of November rolled around things would be pretty dry.
We have an SMUS alumnus who lives in Vancouver, who has taken a shine to Laos. He is building a house in the capital, Vientiane, where he will stay for a few months a year. He also supports a Canadian non-governmental agency that does aid work in Pakse and the surrounding area. Some of their work is in schools. In August I met the Executive Director of this agency at the home of another SMUS alumnus who is a former diplomat who worked in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in more exciting times. The schools are rural, no doubt similar to some of the ones I had visited in rural corners of other countries, but also very different from those schools, I am sure. In Laos the state schools are very inconsistent, and often if a family wants a superior education they send their child – males only – to be educated by the Buddhists, whose temples abound in the country. Often you will see boys wandering a town in saffron robes; we witnessed this in Luang Prabang, the old royal capital of Laos, which we were still able to visit – since it’s a higher latitude, the monsoon doesn’t affect Luang Prabang as it does the southern parts of the country. Later in life these young monks may well abandon the strict life and return to civvies, so to speak.
This year, the monsoons in southern Laos were particularly heavy, and the airport runway in Pakse which had been undergoing some scheduled repairs, was significantly undermined by the rains. So we missed out, and only managed to visit Luang Prabang, a very lovely town on the banks of the Mekong, which is wide and relatively slow at that location. Another time, perhaps.
Tomorrow we arrive home in Victoria, to the sounds of Christmas which we have been missing, I confess. The school will be empty of students, all departed on their break. It is too early to consider the magic of a new year. Merry Christmas to all – and to those who are of a different background or different faith, I hope that you find it possible to absorb the spirit of this season of light and celebration. This spirit is the exclusive province of no one faith, and should illuminate all our lives. Peace.